Huck Sinn’s life was falling apart, including her relationships. After she stopped going to grad school, she moved from San Francisco to the East Bay, where she started “dating herself.” “I was taking myself out. I took myself to concerts and I took myself to a roller derby bout,” she said. It was at that bout that she realized she was “born to do this.”
By “this,” she means playing and coaching for the Oakland Outlaws, one of the Bay Area’s four roller derby league teams, which just kicked off their season opener at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion on March 14.
Huck Sinn, whose real name is Cait Camarata, is now in her fifth season on the league’s All-Stars team. Founded in 2004, the Bay Area Derby Girls (B.A.D.) league, which is the only Bay Area League, is made up the Oakland Outlaws, the Berkeley Resistance, the Richmond Wrecking Belles and the San Francisco ShEvil Dead. The best players from each team make up their All-Stars team, the Golden Girls, which is a part of the Woman’s Flat Track Derby Association. Currently, the team is ranked number three in the world, under New York’s Gotham Girls and Portland’s Rose City Rollers.
Flat-Track Roller Derby is a women-dominated, contact sport; only women and transgender women can play for WFTDA. There’s a men’s flat track derby association as well, but smaller.
Each game is played by two teams, with five players each on the track at the same time, roller-skating in the same direction on an oval rink as a pack. Each team fields four blockers, who wear plain helmets, and a jammer, who wears a star-covered helmet. Each bout, or game, is divided into two 30-minute halves. Within the 30 minutes, there are a series of short matchups, or jams.
During a jam, a jammer is the only person on the track who can score a point. They do that by passing members of the opposing team, said Foxy Throwdown, a Berkeley Resistance skater, whose real name is Maeleeke Lavan. In order to start making points, a jammer has to make their initial pass through the pack, completely lapping them in order to score a point. They can continue scoring points until the jam ends.
As one of the four blockers, it’s Foxy Throwdown’s job to stand arm-to-arm with the others, creating a wall. The jammer from the opposing team tries to jam or push her way through or around the blockers, who are constantly changing positions to hold her back. If the jammer is pushed or steps out of the rink, she’s out of play. “The blocker’s job is to get their jammer through while simultaneously holding the opposing jammer back,” she said. “So it’s offense and defense at the same time.”
One blocker can be designated as a pivot, a player who can become a jammer when needed, and wears a stripe-covered helmet. “The pivot is also the only person who can take the star [helmet cover] from the jammer and become a jammer,” Foxy Throwdown said. The pivot, she continued, “is one-part being a leader on a track, sort of similar to being a quarterback on a football team: calling plays, taking charge, [and] making sure communication is happening.”
After the two 30-minute halves, the team with the most points wins.
With roller derby season gearing up again, the teams are entering an intense time. For many of the skaters, derby is an overwhelming part of life, something they have to balance with work and their non-derby-season commitments. There are weekly practices, weight training, event planning and bouts. This season, there will be a total of four bouts.
The skaters spend most of their time at Peralta, the league’s practice warehouse in West Oakland. Since B.A.D. is a volunteer organization, they’re in charge of scheduling the bouts and events, and creating the marketing materials on their off time. “All of us have regular day jobs, some of us have husbands and wives and kids and pets and families, so we’re basically doing this volunteer job,” Foxy Throwdown said, “which ends up being your second job, for the most part.”
The skaters also have to buy their own gear or fundraise for it. “Everyone’s buying their own skates. That is everything from wheels, toe-stops, laces, trucks, axels, bearings, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guard, mouth guard, helmet, and uniform,” she said.
Skaters like Huck Sinn, who play for the All-Stars team as well as their home team, have different practices throughout the week. “It’s hard to find time to even eat sometimes, and definitely find enough time to sleep—and you need to sleep to recuperate from the hard practices,” Huck Sinn said. “So we’re always trying to figure it out. I wish there was more time in the day, but there’s not.”
Murderyn Monroe, also known as Katie Reyes-Salcedo, joined the Oakland Outlaws and has played on the All-Star team since 2011. “I don’t travel or do a lot on the weekend. I don’t have a lot of downtime. But that just is what it is, because the reward is invaluable,” she said. “The people that are in my life know and recognize and support that endeavor. So, you know, it’s very much a joint success.”
For Mary Prankster, a skater on the Oakland Outlaws team whose real name is Bridgett Shank, even though she has a full-time job and her own architecture firm, playing derby and balancing her work compliment each other. “It just structures my time: fun-time and work-time,” she said.
Pomba, (real name: Amanda Pomba), who skates for the Berkeley Resistance, poses her own question: Why do skaters continue to play derby when it’s a brutal sport, mentally, physically and emotionally? “I think that’s because when you’re here skating with your teammates, you realize everyone here has something to work for. Nobody’s handed anything in this sport,” she said.
“This is the sport that requires you to give your all and that’s the type of community I want to be around—people who empower themselves, empower me, and collectively work really hard for a common goal,” she continued.
With names like Mean Burrito and Snide Boob, choosing your roller derby identity is important. It’s essentially your new name, Huck Sinn said. Other names said she tossed around before taking on Huck Sinn were Blue Steel and Sham-rock-it—but they’re probably taken already, she said. For many of the B.A.D. skaters, choosing their unique roller derby name was a process. Some had help from friends, while others were inspired by films, music, and past nicknames. Foxy Throwdown said there used to be a database where skaters registered their names, but now they just pick whatever name they want.
Mary Prankster said she got her name from the Timothy Leary and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. “Mary as a woman’s name is like a play on Merry Pranksters,” she said. “I also just liked Prankster. It was kind of fun and felt like somebody who can be on the track and be mean but fun and kind of crazy.”
Foxy Throwdown said she picked her name because there were no African Americans in the Seattle league, where she originally played. “I wanted something that represented a strong, black woman,” she said. “So I took it from Foxy Brown, the Blaxploitation film, and turned it into Foxy Throwdown.”
For Huck, Foxy, Murderyn and the rest, roller derby is part of their lives. They say it’s a place for empowerment and community and an outlet for aggression when life gets too hard. Now that the season opener is behind them, they will practice for several months, and then the first bout of regular play is scheduled for July 11 at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion.